Sunday, December 9, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #3: Thor

Seriously?  A Thor movie?  How in the world are you going to make a Thor movie and make it watchable?  How are you going to make a Thor movie that a general audience can understand?  Characters like Spider-man, the Hulk, even the Punisher are relatable on some basic level.  How are you going to get a general audience to buy into and relate to a misplaced Norse thunder god?  As Dale Gribble once said, " I'm skeptical that you could, yet intrigued that you may."

Wing-o, man, I'm in an article.
The answer to all of these questions and more can be found in Paramount Pictures 2011 film, Thor.  Seriously.  Thor ranks highly on this list because it does what shouldn't be possible.  It perfectly creates the world of Asgard, a realm of gods, and then perfectly blends and juxtaposes that world with Earth.  The contrast between the two settings is so complete that it works brilliantly.  When Thor is doing his thing in Asgard he feels like he belongs and everything in that world, Frost Giants, mystic hammers, gilded halls make sense within the given context.  Thus, when Thor is cast to Earth, he looks and feels like a man out of time (way better than Captain America ever did).  A lot of this is due to the solid performance of Chris Hemsworth.  Hemsworth takes what would be an extremely awkward script in most other actors hands and manages to make it flow as naturally as possible.  It's not easy playing awkward with awkward material and making it seem skillful.  Hemsworth is surprisingly adept in his role as the thunder god.  Honestly, all of the actors playing Norse deities do a spectacular job of bringing the classic comic pantheon to life.  Sif, Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral are all compelling and fun in their supporting roles and they make you want to spend more screen time with them.  Heimdall is the real badass, though.  Idris Elba flat out kills the role and fleshes out a character that really has little more to do than open and close the door on the kingdom.  His showdown with Loki might be one of the most intense moments in the film. 
Speaking of Loki, who is Tom Hiddleston?  I don't know, but I can tell you this, he takes a character that would be easy to play to type and works him in such subtle ways it's almost a shame he turns out to be the villain.  His character is almost as compelling as Jeff Bridges' Obediah Stane in terms of nuance.

No, it's because I'm so in love with you.
The earth-based cast isn't quite as tight, but still manages to keep the story going.  Natalie Portman is grossly over cast as Dr. Jane Foster. The character simply isn't given enough to do to justify someone of Portman's abilities.  Heck, that full-lipped brunette from Two Broke Girls could have probably played the role just fine.  That said, Portman's romance with Hemsworth is far more believable than the torturous love scenes between her and Hayden "haven't had a relevant acting job since" Christensen.  Shudder.
The character to watch on Terra Firma is Erik Selvig.  Who knew this throw-away scientist would be such an important part of the Avengers? Skarsgard's performance is fine for what it is, but more importantly it sets him up nicely as the big player in the Avengers movie.
Honestly, I found the Earth level stuff the hardest to enjoy, but that may have more to do with the fact that most of that adventure is Thor without his hammer.  By the time the Destroyer shows up, it is ON.  The Destroyer battle is reason enough to watch this movie.

As I said early, Thor ranks #3 on this list because it perhaps best learns the hard lessons of the early films like Punisher, Spider-man, and Fantastic Four.  It then takes those lessons and applies them to a truly challenging subject matter and creates a super-hero movie that is pure fun, not just for comic book junkies like me, but for the general audience as well.  Thor is #3 primarily due to the fact that it manages to avoid so many of the easy Hollywood traps that plague what-would-have-been better movies on this list like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.  Case in point, had Thor followed those films, it would have ended with a big battle between Thor and a transformed Loki who had fully embraced his frost giant heritage and become giant and blue, covered in ice.  This showdown would have wrecked either Asgard, Earth, or both and the final blow would have taken the last erg of Thor's strength.  Thankfully, this movie is smarter than that, and instead we get the intelligent ending we should have gotten in those other films.

Big Hollywood Ending.  art by Stan
Thor is a lot of fun, it has great reverence for its source material, but it is not confined to it.  Solid performances by a powerful cast create two very distinct and believable worlds that successfully coexist.  Thor succeeds on all levels.

Aimee's Take:

I think Thor is a perfectly awesome film. It hits all the right notes and does all the right things. I'm not even annoyed by the Earth-bound love interest subplot, because it's pretty minimal. Thor never really does make it seem like he's all gaga for her. I honestly think Thor just feels bad about getting all her lab stuff confiscated/wrecked up, and as a plus she's pretty. They have a few moments together. He wants to visit her again but he doesn't make a big deal out of it. It's not like they have hot, steamy Norse god sex in the desert. Seems pretty benign, actually. I viewed it more as Thor was struck by her as a representative of what Midgard has to offer, and gave him someone to typify his connection with the people.

But honestly, Stan is right. You want him to have Mjolnir the entire time. I could have spent the whole movie in Asgard with Thor having various adventures, no need for Earth at all. 

I went into this liking Thor already but I really wasn't prepared for the character to be this much fun on film. I had a blast with it, enjoying all parts pretty evenly and equally. While it might not have the overall appeal of say, Iron Man, it makes up for it in terms of being incredibly solid and thoroughly fun. The subject matter never gets too hard nor does it hit close to home, but at its heart it manages to make a great story.

Loki is a surprise for me, but a pleasant one. I am glad they managed to keep him a trickster. It would have been easy resort to the big Hollywood thing, as chronicled by Stan, above. I managed to avoid being off-put or distracted by his ridiculous hat, also.

And now, the only review necessary: I have a huge celebrity crush on Chris Hemsworth. It started with Star Trek and continues despite Snow White and the Huntsman. Did this movie have to be good for me like it? No. Is it good anyway? Absolutely.

And before you give me a lot of crap over it, remember--this is possibly the first conventional celebrity crush I've had (outside of c. 1980 Harrison Ford). Highlights include:

    Craig T. Nelson, before the Coach era

John Astin as Gomez, second only to crush on Caroline Jones
Dick York. You're lying if you don't think he's weird-looking.
Younger but still old Tom Skerritt

Bruce Boxleitner. Every era, including today, which is scary, because I'm only 28.

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